Training of Company Officers Deserves Highest Priority
The Volunteers Corner
How well a fire department operates on the fireground depends to a large extent on the capabilities of the company officers. A chief officer can develop the most effective strategy possible for extinguishing a fire, but the success of that strategy depends on the tactics used by the company officers.
This means that the training of company officers should have the highest priority in a department training program. There are two basic reasons for this. First, because the company officers employ the tactics that support the chieFs strategy, they must have a thorough knowledge of the tactics needed to implement the strategy. Second, company officers bear a major responsibility to train the fire fighters under their command to carry out various fireground tactics efficiently.
A fire department whose company officers recognize their responsibilities as instructors of the members of their companies will have not only competent company officers, but also competent fire fighters. Although a fire department may have an extensive drill ground training program, it is still the company officers’ responsibility to make certain that additional training in quarters makes every fire fighter proficient in the required fireground skills.
Understanding SOP: Fire departments have long recognized the value of standard operating procedures in creating greater efficiency on the fireground. However, company officers have to be thoroughly trained in SOPs so that they can follow them intelligently. If department SOPs are thoroughly understood, the first-in company officer in the absence of a chief officer will act on the first priority demanded by the fire situation so that his action will be a base on which the incoming chief officer can build his strategy.
For example, at a residential building fire with sleeping occupants, the first-in officer may determine that the first line should go up the stairs and an effort should be started to evacuate the occupants down this protected passageway. The incoming chief officer then can expand this initial action to both augment the rescue effort and mount a vigorous attack on the fire. The first-in company officer has taken action that is basic and the most that can be done with one company.
Knowledge of SOPs also eliminates the need for a chief officer to give a long, detailed explanation of his order. “Open up the roof’ is all that need be said by a chief officer to a ladder company officer who knows his job. The ladder company officer knows from his training where the roof should be opened at any specific fire. It’s his job to determine the size ladder and the forcible entry tools needed to carry out the order to open the roof.
Time to think: One of the most precious things a chief officer can gain on the fireground is time to think—time to shape a strategy to control the fireground problem. Company officers can provide this time to think when they carry out orders without detailed explanations. When a company is ordered to “search the top two floors,” it is the officer’s responsibility to assign fire fighters to each of the floors. The chief officer should not have to give a thought to how his order will be executed because the department’s training program has already taken care of the details.
Engine company officers bear a primary responsibility to obtain a water supply. Every fire station should have a water supply map. This map should show the location of all hydrants and also the sizes of the mains. Where it is necessary to draft, maps should show all static bodies of water and the drafting sites. These large maps can be sectionalized and carried on pumpers. The lucky ones are the officers in the larger cities that have a hydrant at every street intersection—and sometimes in the middle of the block.
Company officers in rural areas should be familiar with drafting sites in their reponse areas so that the first two or three pumpers and tankers take actions that will contribute to the efficient development of a tanker shuttle or a pumper relay with large diameter hose.
Training evolutions: If officers are to supervise their companies effectively on the fireground, then they must have adequate training. The prime need is to first teach department standard operating procedures and then give them the opportunity to carry out these procedures in drills. This sometimes takes a bit of change of attitude of the chief officers in charge of these drills.
As training increases the competence of company officers, chief officers have to learn how to really supervise and stop being an instructor of details. Outline a fireground problem and then let the company officers show how they would respond to this problem within the confines of the department’s SOP. Such exercises can be done with model buildings on a tabletop as well as with an actual building that is available for training. You may not be able to use water on a building except at a drill ground, but you can have companies lay lines, raise ladders and simulate ventilation.
Let the company officers complete their operations and then hold a critique that stresses the competent actions and explains how to end the inadequacies.